Recent controversy surrounding Cape Town’s ex-mayor and an ex-DA member has exposed a lack of priority for the City’s affordable housing sector. 

In late 2018 the DA’s near constant troubles with former Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille has had a side effect – it laid bare the city’s lack of inner-city development in affordable housing and thrust the gentrification of the city’s suburbs into the spotlight.

As a parting shot to her former party, De Lille claims affordable housing has not been prioritised in the city.

“Under my leadership, we released 11 pieces of (public-owned) land in Salt River, Woodstock and the city centre. And those people, opponents against integration, mobilised other councillors to block all of these projects. I have done nothing wrong, neither has councillor Brett Herron,” says De Lille.

Cape Town’s inner-city housing crisis has been laid bare. Image credit: Pixabay

Cape Town’s inner-city housing crisis has been laid bare. Image credit: Pixabay

Brett Herron had resigned his position as mayoral committee member for urban development a week earlier under a cloud of controversy claiming that he was resigning as a cabal within the DA was blocking the construction of affordable housing at the available Salt River Market site. A few weeks later he doubled down claiming that building on a second site had also been disrupted.

“The Green Point recreation site has been identified for another mixed-use, mixed-income development, including affordable housing. There is a fantastic development scheme that is in the planning stage for this site. However, that cabal is blocking the progress of that project, too,” he says claiming there was a group within the DA that is opposed to social housing in or near the inner city.

“They have told the officials, and other politicians, that it is too close to the election to proceed with the project … I find this quite shocking especially given their policy and manifesto promises to integrate communities. It raises a question for me as to how they perceive a DA voter?” he adds.

This latter claim was backed up by researcher at Ndifuna Ukwazi, Nick Budlender, who says they had written to Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson who admitted that the ground was earmarked for affordable housing development and had written back to say, “It is our intention to have a mixed-use development which includes affordable housing and will be informed by the outcome of the required statutory processes and the most feasible modelling to ensure a successful development.”

Six months after the letter, however, Budlender says nothing has changed.

It’s clear that as we start off the new year, Cape Town’s fight for affordable housing is only just beginning.

“We would expect selfish, wealthy residents who live nearby to oppose it, but in fact it is the City which lacks the vision and political will to drive this project forward. When it comes to affordable housing in former ‘whites-only’ areas, ground is never broken. This is unacceptable in a housing and segregation crisis,” says Budlender.

Since Herron’s departure his replacement Felicity Purchase, wrote a letter to Ndifuna Ukwazi, in which she wrote a near exact response to Neilson’s comments of six months earlier.

‘The intention is to have a mixed-use development which will include affordable housing. The development will be informed by the outcome of the required statutory processes,’ the letter reads.

At the same time as these accusations were surfacing the DA laid criminal charges relating to ‘good governance’ and ‘conduct’ against De Lille and Herron following an investigation led by law firm Bowman Gilfillan.

DA provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela also held a press conference in which he blamed the delays at the developments on Herron. Madikizela claimed that the various projects were undergoing ‘legal challenges’ and posited a theory that Herron had left when it became obvious, he would need to answer questions relating to the Gilfillian report.

“There were two other court challenges on projects and we are waiting for the court process to run its course,” he says. “We had some challenges, but we are dealing with them. We are taking action against wrong-doing.”

These incidents have brought Cape Town’s inner-city accommodation crisis to head and put the city firmly in the media’s gaze with a new development in historic Bo-Kaap also hitting the front pages. Centrally located Bo-Kaap’s 6 000-strong community has had its roots in the area since the earliest days of Cape Town’s history, but developers are now buying up the land they perceive as cheap to put up luxury developments, which threaten the community’s way of life.

Startling images were seen online, TV and in the papers of police firing stun grenades at a small community group – including old ladies – who were trying to stop a crane from making its way to a new development styles as ‘FORTY ON L’, located at 40 Lion Street.

Now an online petition has been created, calling for the recognition and conservation of the Bo-Kaap as a unique historical urban landscape with a vibrant, living culture and way of life, among other things. That battle is far from over. The crane that the community tried to stop was delayed, but eventually made its way to Lion Street.

It’s clear that as we start off the new year, Cape Town’s fight for affordable housing is only just beginning.